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Some of the major and busiest international airports in the world started announcing preventive safety measures against the spread of the 2019 Wuhan coronavirus, which the WHO calls Covid-19, after its outbreak in China and quick spread to 77 more countries.
The virus that was first found in Wuhan, the capital and the most populated city of Hubei Province, in Central China, has been spreading at a rapid pace despite various preventive measures being taken by the Chinese authorities. Deaths caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) have been increasing at a rapid pace from the mere two reported initially to 170 in less than a month.
The reported deaths due to the infection more than doubled in four days to 362 by 02 February, and rose sharply to more than 1,800 as of 18 February. International passengers travelling from China are naturally the biggest risk to the countries they arrive to.
The US Department of State has issued level-4 travel advisory to China, meaning that the public is not advised to travel to China. The CDC earlier had issued a level-3 warning recommending to avoid travel, unless essential, to Wuhan and level-2 warning to the rest of China. But given the fast spread, the CDC revised the travel warning to level-3 for entire China.
Coronavirus impact on airlines operators
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that the Covid-19 outbreak is expected to result in 13% full-year loss of passenger demand for airline operators in the Asia-Pacific region. The loss is expected to cause a revenue loss of $27.8bn in 2020 for the carriers.
Majority of the impact is projected to be on those carriers registered in China, who are expected to lose $12.8bn in the domestic market.
Coronavirus – how airports and airlines are ensuring a safe travel
The coronavirus has crossed borders, with cases confirmed in 25 more countries including the US, Canada, UK, Russia, Germany, France, Japan, India, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, and Thailand.
With the Center for Disease Control (CDC) having confirmed the first case of a Wuhan coronavirus on 21 January followed by a second on 24 January, three international airports each in the US and Canada officially announced measures for coronavirus prevention, with European airports too taking similar steps. The CDC expanded the screening to 20 airports within a week due to the growing spread of the virus.
United Airlines announced the cancellation of a number of scheduled flights from US hubs to Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai from 1 February anticipating lower demand due to the nCoV fears. The airline also announced travel waiver from 24 January to 29 February, initially to China and later included Hong Kong. The world’s largest airline, American Airlines, too followed suit and announced similar cancellations to Beijing and Shanghai but for an even longer period, through March.
Air Canada announced similar cancellations of select flights to optimise its capacity based on the reduced demand.
British Airways suspended direct flights to and from China, following confirmed cases of coronavirus infection in France and Germany.
The Changi Airport in Singapore has started thermal screening for passengers arriving from China, in addition to isolating those with the disease symptoms.
Indigo Airlines and Air India have cancelled majority flights to China, even before the first case was confirmed in the country on 30 January.
Etihad Airways has asked its cabin crew to take a paid leave for a month and advance leave plans to current period, given the coronavirus spread across the Middle East and rest of the world.
Coronavirus in Europe: Airport measures for passengers arriving from Italy
Prague airport in the Czech Republic has designated separate gates for all passengers arriving from Italy. Airport employees have been directed to closely monitor passengers arriving from Italy and report any signs of respiratory disease to airport security. Frequent disinfection of arrival gates, buses and other areas handling passengers from Italy are also planned.
Bratislava airport in Slovakia has implemented strict screening measures for passengers arriving from Italy, who are required to fill out a questionnaire to enable officials to identify any suspected cases.
Similar screening measures have been implemented at Marco Polo Airport in Venice, and airports in Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Moldova, and Albania for passengers arriving from China and Italy.
Bulgaria has cancelled all flights to Milan, Italy and implemented screening measures at the Sofia airport.
Ryanair has reduced its flights to Italy by 25%, following a spike in cases across the country.
Airports in Italy, which has been witnessing a surge in coronavirus infections, have been screening passengers for temperature and symptoms. Doctors from the Italian Ministry of Health are checking the health of all passengers at Leonardo da Vinci international airport.
Milan Bergamo Airport has been coronavirus thermal screening for passengers since 06 February. Similar Covid-19 checks are in place at Venezia airport and Naples international airport.
Coronavirus prevention: Intensive measures being taken at Chinese airports
China has started taking intensive coronavirus airport measures including closing the outbound traffic from Wuhan as millions of people, both local and international tourists, are anticipated to travel on the occasion of the Chinese lunar new year on 25 January. 2019-nCoV cases have also been registered in Beijing and Guangdong of people that travelled to Wuhan.
Airports around China have started screening passengers and immediately admitting those with even the simplest of the symptoms, for special care.
Three of the ten most affected provinces host the busiest airports in China.
Coronavirus airport measures in Singapore and Malaysia
All passengers arriving in Malaysia are being screened for symptoms of coronavirus. Airline operators are also issuing Health Alert Card (HAC) to passengers to indicate their health status. Malaysia Airlines has cancelled many of its flights to Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.
Temperature screening has been introduced for all flights arriving at Changi and Seletar Airports in Singapore. Healthcare teams are screening passengers who look unwell at the aerobridges for inbound flights from China.
Singapore Airlines and SilkAir have announced a reduction in services across their network due to weak demand, following the coronavirus outbreak.
Rigorous passenger screening in Thailand
Thailand is implementing thermal screening for coronavirus at all of its 28 airports managed by the Department of Airports (DOA), which has directed to use thermal scans and thermometers.
Thermal scanning is being performed at the U-Tapao Rayong-Pattaya International Airport managed by the Royal Thai Navy as well.
Hygiene measures are being implemented at all airports and tourist destinations.
Coronavirus Hong Kong airport measures
Coronavirus prevention in Hong Kong airports is done by screening all passengers. Hong Kong has quarantined the traveller from Wuhan who was found with the coronavirus symptoms to prevent the spread of the novel Coronavirus disease (nCoV). The virus hits at a busy holiday time for the travellers. Hong Kong international airport, which already suffered a drop in passenger traffic in 2019 due to anti-government protests, is taking prompt measures to prevent the potential epidemic.
Planes flying from Wuhan to Hong Kong are being parked at a specially designated area. Cleaning and disinfection are being increased rapidly at the arrival terminal for passengers from Wuhan, as reported by Time.
Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong Airlines, meanwhile, plan to cut the flights to China and has started allowing passengers who booked to/from Wuhan to reschedule their trips free of cost.
Turkey: Thermal screening at airports and flight cancellations
Turkey started screening at all major airports using thermal cameras, including the Istanbul airport. Flagship carrier Turkish Airlines cancelled flights to China initially until 09 February and later extended the same until end of February.
Turkey has also adopted safety measures across its ports against the coronavirus.
Coronavirus care at South Korean airports
Airline crew flying to and from South Korean airports are being offered hazardous-material suits, in addition to disinfecting planes more frequently, after the first case of coronavirus infection was reported in South Korea.
Screening at Heathrow and Paris airports
Three European airports have direct flights to Wuhan, from major cities such as London, Rome, and Paris. Airlines such as China Southern and Air France offer non-stop flights to Europe throughout the year.
London Heathrow airport has designated a separate area in Terminal 4 to screen the passengers arriving from Wuhan and check for as well as inform the passengers about the symptoms.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) recommended airlines to provide Universal Protection Kits to crew flying to/from the affected countries.
US and Canadian airports increasingly screening for coronavirus infection; US imposes temporary travel ban on Chinese
John F. Kennedy, Los Angeles and San Francisco international airports were the first to start screening for the coronavirus, followed by O’Hare and Hartsfield-Jackson international airports. The screening was increased to a total of 20 airports across the US within a week.
Canadian airports including Toronto international airport, Montreal international airport, and Vancouver international airport have announced that international passengers will have to undergo additional screening such as temperature and other symptomatic checks and inquiring about their visits to Wuhan to check for the possibility of having contracted the infection.
The US has also imposed ban on foreigners with a recent travel history to China.
Coronavirus airport measures in India
The Ministry of Civil Aviation, India, announced multiple preventive measures against the Wuhan coronavirus initially at 11 airports including Chennai, Vishakapatnam, Bengaluru, Bhubaneswar, Hyderabad, Cochin, Delhi, Mumbai, Amritsar, Kochi, and Kolkata. Starting 04 March, Indian airports have been adopting universal screening of all passengers.
Thermal screening for coronavirus was extended to 20 airports with the infection spreading to other countries quickly.
Arriving passengers that travelled to Chinese cities such as Wuhan in the preceding 14 days and having symptoms of the viral infection are being asked to provide a self-declaration, while international passengers from China and Hong Kong are being screened at the pre-immigration areas of the airports. Thermal cameras have been installed and airport signage being displayed at all the airports.
Kerala was the first state to report coronavirus cases in India. Coronavirus has since then been confirmed in the National Capital Region (NCR) in Delhi and Gurugram as well as the south Indian city of Hyderabad in Telangana state.
Coronavirus: Delhi airport increases Covid-19 measures
With the increase in reported Indian cases of coronavirus, Delhi airport (Indira Gandhi International Airport or IGIA) has increased screening measures. Coronavirus thermal screening is being performed by Airport Health Organization (APHO) based on the country from which the passengers are arriving and symptoms displayed.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has also guided the Delhi airport staff to stay alert and airlines to take precautions to prevent the coronavirus spread.
Although no confirmed case has been reported of coronavirus, Bangalore airport has been on a high alert to ensure arriving passengers are screened.
Coronavirus screening at airports in the Middle East region
The United Arab Emirates has banned all flights to Iran, where coronavirus cases have spiked. Major airports in the UAE including Abu Dhabi and Dubai have started thermal screening of passengers on direct flights from China. The Imam Khomeini International Airport in Iran has also started health screening for patients.
Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, and Iraq have implemented similar screening procedures and suspended flights to Iran.
Measures at Australian and New Zealand airports
Similar to the US, Australia closed borders to tourists arriving from China and foreigners that have a recent travel history to China, while Australians returning from China are being tested before allowing entry into the country.
Multiple flights from China have been cancelled to Australia, while Australians staying the affected Chinese cities such as Wuhan are being brought back in special rescue planes.
Major airlines such as Qantas have announced the suspension of flights to Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. Qantas suspended its direct flight services between Australia and Mainland China from 09 February to 29 March.
Screening stations have been set up at the Auckland and Christchurch airports in New Zealand with more measures expected to be implemented in the future.
Travel restrictions in Trinidad and Tobago against coronavirus
The Trinidad and Tobago government announced travel restrictions on passengers from China, disallowing them for 14 days from the date of departure.
Thermal cameras, both hand-held and fixed, are installed at all airports including the Piarco International Airport and infectious disease protocols are being implemented across, announced the Ministry of Health, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
The Ministry of Health also advised its residents to postpone travel to the coronavirus-affected countries.
Airport measures and flight cancellations in Taiwan
The Taiwanese Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) issued travel notice level-3 to Hong Kong and Macau, level-2 to Singapore, and level-1 warning to Thailand. Level-3 means to avoid non-essential travel, resulting in airlines cutting down their flights to the affected destinations.
Taiwan has temporarily closed e-gates at airports to foreigners, including those with Alien Residence Certificates (ARCs), in order to ensure effective screening. Foreigners that visited China, Hong Kong, and Macau in the last 14 days are disallowed entry into the country.
Airlines operating flights to Taiwan too have announced a number of measures.
EVA Air cut down its cross-strait route network to five Chinese destinations from 10 February to 29 April. The airline has mandated its crew flying to high-risk destinations such as Hong Kong, Macau, and Mainland China to wear sanitary masks and advised to use gloves when collecting food trays from passengers after meals.
Tigerair Taiwan is disinfecting the cabins of aircraft returning from Macau as well as changing the head-cover of seats. It also temporarily stopped providing in-flight magazine and suspended in-flight duty-free service to prevent against potential contact with infected.
Tigerair Taiwan also cancelled all flights to and from the Philippines from 15 February to 31 March and those in Taoyuan-Macau route from 12 February to 26 February. It had earlier announced the cancellation of Taichung-Macau and Kaohsiung-Macau flights until 31 March 2020.
China Airline Group too announced similar measures.
How airports perform thermal screening of passengers
Airports perform coronavirus thermal screening of passengers to spot fevers caused by infections such as CoV, swine flu, and influenza (such as H1N1). Thermal screening is performed using mass-screening systems that measure the skin temperature at high-speed using thermal imaging and temperature measurement equipment such as the FevIR Scan.
Such quick mass-screening ensures to take security measures without causing delays and discomfort to passengers.
Symptoms of coronavirus infections can begin with simple cold and cough and mild fever, but aggravate if left untreated, leading to more severe respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia. Coronavirus transmission happens both through humans and animals such as dogs and cats.
No vaccines exist currently to fight the coronavirus, but the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US is developing one but that would take at least a year to be available. A number of private pharmaceutical companies are also developing potential vaccines and drugs.
Coronavirus / MERS-CoV treatment
Most of the coronavirus drugs in the pipeline are at early stages of development, leaving anti-viral drugs used for other conditions as the only treatment options. A number of pharmaceutical companies have announced partnerships to develop coronavirus drugs for treatment.